BUFFALO, NY -- A parking meter mechanic here was sentenced on Aug. 16 for stealing $210,000 in quarters. James Bagarozzo, 57, will serve two and a half years in prison for the curbside thefts, with which he got away for more than eight years between 2003 and 2011.
Bagarozzo essentially rigged 70 city parking meters to direct inserted coins into a different compartment than the "official" one, which he didn't have access to. He then took the coins, stuffed them in his pants and jingled his way to the bank, according to reports. Bararozzo became friendly with bank tellers, explaining to them that he had a friend in the vending machine business, and they suspected no wrongdoing. He reportedly went to the bank several times a week to exchange quarters for cash.
Buffalo's new parking commissioner, who spotted a discrepancy between new digital meters and old mechanical ones, ultimately caught the meter bandit. After being recorded in the act on video and questioned by the FBI, Bagarozzo admitted to the thefts, which constitute a federal crime. He was arrested in December 2011.
A coworker collaborated with Bagarozzo and stole $15,000 in quarters over a five-year period. Lawrence Charles is set to be sentenced on Aug. 29.
Local sources say that since the arrests of Bagarozzo and Charles, annual parking meter revenue in the city has increased by $500,000. New meters in Buffalo are computerized and take credit cards, in addition to quarters, making them more difficult to rob. (In vending, replacing coin and bill acceptance with cashless payment systems has proven to greatly mitigate machine thefts and vandalism.)
The amounts in the Buffalo coin caper pale in comparison to those resulting from parking meter misconduct in Hoboken, NJ, at around the same time. A contractor whose company was hired by Hoboken to collect coins from city parking meters pleaded guilty in September 2009 to stealing about $1.2 million in coins from those meters between June 2005 and April 2008.